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The euphonium is a brass instrument with a conical bore, a large bell and a powerful, velvety sound. The consistent tenor sound and wide range of the euphonium allow it to play an important role in wind and brass bands, brass quintets and other ensembles. The lyrical possibilities of the euphonium ensure that it features prominently in brass band music such as the marches of John Philip Sousa while in some ensembles it may have a tenor role similar to that of the cello in a string quartet. The range and tone of the instrument have increasingly been highlighted in contemporary times a range of euphonium music, including solo compositions. Since the late 20th century, the euphonium has played a role in some jazz music and in a few rock bands.
The origins of the euphonium may be traced back to the instrument known as the serpent and a later instrument called the ophicleide. Its sound is much more consistent than its predecessors and it has been regarded as a brass equivalent of the cello, providing the tenor voice in wind and brass ensembles. The wide range of the euphonium makes it suitable for a lyrical role and this has been used by composers of music for brass bands, allowing varied euphonium music to be heard in the brass band and other ensembles. The euphonium features prominently in marching bands and also has a role as a solo instrument, for which many compositions have been written since the late 20th century.
The euphonium has not normally featured as an orchestral instrument, though euphonium music has featured in some orchestral works, such as The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. The euphonium also is often used in place of the Wagner tuba in modern orchestras. In a brass quintet, the euphonium participates as the tenor voice. The instrument also may be seen in a tuba-euphonium ensemble. The instrument has sometimes been seen in rock bands and has often been used in this context by Don McGlashan, a musician who has played in the Mutton Birds and the Bell Birds, among other bands.
Euphonium music features in some jazz music of the late 20th and early 21st century. Jazz musician Rich Matteson achieved a high level of artistry on the tuba and the euphonium, though his recordings were, in his own words, “on the Oblivion Label and are available at your local Fat Chance record store”. Despite his achievements, the euphonium has never reached the same status in the jazz world as the saxophone or trumpet.